Thursday, August 11, 2016

An Ancient and Inspired but Unknown Guide to Parents for Educating Children©

Continuing to Reap Success* 11 August 2016
"An Ancient and Inspired but Unknown Guide to Parents for Education Children"


We all learn “line upon line and precept upon precept.” Some of the brighter among us learn paragraph upon paragraph and the really keen like Joseph Smith learn page upon page and chapter upon chapter.  The Savior I imagine, learned book upon book. The less keen may learn word by word. I seem to fall into this category all too often.  Today’s blog is an example.  

In my morning reading I came across what I consider an amazing set of ideas, the knowing of which some fifty years ago, would I believe, have made a significant difference in my activities as a father. Today, I learned that the Biblical book of Proverbs is something of a handbook to guide parents in training children!(1) Ho, ho, ho, wouldn’t that have helped if had I known and understood that as a young parent? Unfortunately I am learning it too late to benefit my own children and I’m also learning it too late to help them help many of their children–some of whom are now in middle adolescence and early adulthood.

So I am sharing this for my younger friends, most probably those who served in the California Roseville Mission when I presided there. They are in their early and mid-thirties and in the thick of raising young families.  I hope this may be of some benefit to those who are wise enough to give this information the consideration it merits. And, if there are a few others out there–parents and grandparents who can pass it along to young people who may take their advice seriously, so much the better. There may even be some young people whom I do not know that are frequenting this blog.  Maybe it will help them as well.

I am reading an article about “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” and the following excerpts are from a section about the status of children in the Israelite home. The author Daniel I. Block, begins the discussion by pointing out that the book of Proverbs is a handbook for parents. He next turns to a discussion of the disposition of the book of Proverbs toward youth by an analysis of the terms the book uses to describe them.This section may make some readers uncomfortable because it portrays youth in fairly negative terms.This seems like a contradiction to our notion that youth do not reach accountability until age eight, and that they are basically good. But, if the reader will not over react, I think he/she will see that the descriptions fit many of the situations parents encounter in raising children.  In other words, the book of Proverbs is taking a realistic and practical view of the condition of children rather than perhaps a theological view of them. Here is the first assessment:

How Proverbs Characterizes Children
Cast as a manual for the instruction of a young man, the book of Proverbs offers a clear window into the ancient Israelite disposition toward youth. It is especially instructive to note the specific words used to refer to and characterize the person addressed. (1) Ben is an expression capable of a wide range of meanings, one of which was equivalent to “student,” under the tutelage of a “teacher,” referred to as his ab, “father.” In Proverbs the word denotes a young man dependent on and accountable to mother and father. (2) Na’ar is a late adolescent in need of training as he prepares for adulthood. (3) Peti (plural petauim / peta yim), is from a root pata, “to be simple, open (minded),” hence a simpleton, a gullible person, one easily seduced or taken in by ideas of any kind, whose mind is untrained to discern truth from falsehood, hence in need of guidance. (4) lis/les is a fundamentally flawed scoffer, mocker, who arrogantly displays his corruption by holding wisdom and instruction in derision and is in need of humbling. (5) Kesil is a shameless, stupid and insolent person, disinterested in wisdom and incorrigible in his ways. (6) Haser leb is a mindless and heartless person, one who lacks sense and needs discipline. (7) Ewil is an idiot, a morally stupid and thick-brained person, virtually indistinguishable from the kesil.  Both are characterized by ‘iwellet, “moral corruption, folly,” and both respond to discipline and correction with contempt. (8) Siklut/sakal means stupidity/ and obtuse and stupid person, without any necessary moral connotations.(2)
The solution: Effective Parents

Importantly, though Proverbs sees the flaws in youth, it provides for a solution through learning–education. Notice the number of Hebrew words that are found in Proverbs related to teaching children. The emphasis is on parents teaching and training children, preparing them for a life as a responsible adult and even for roles of leadership. Many would agree I’m sure, that this is not happening as well as it should in our schools.  Proverbs emphasizes teaching youth wisdom, self-discipline, understanding, prudence, discretion, perception, insight, and listening.
This vocabulary and the manner in which the words are used demonstrate that from an intellectual, moral and spiritual standpoint, Israelites believed persons in their youth were fundamentally flawed. According to the opening thesis statement of Proverbs (1:2-7), the answer to this problem is reflected in a rich vocabulary of learning: hokma, “wisdom”; musar, “discipline, training”; bina (cognate to tebuna found elsewhere), “understanding”; da at, “knowledge”; orma, “cleverness, smarts:’ mezimma, “discretion, prudence”; leqah, “perception, insight:’ and tahbulot, “fundamentally “the art of steering a boat” but idiomatic for “leadership skill.” Elsewhere one encounters the noun sekel, “insight, prudence,” and a series of verbs for learning sama’, “to listen,” especially to fathers and instructors, and hitteth ‘ozni, “to incline the ear” to teachers (Prov 5:13); lamad, “to learn” (Prov 30:3); hanak, “to initiate,” that is, “bestow the status and responsibilities of adulthood.”(3)
The Goal: Preparation for life

Block tells us that the goal of Proverbs is not just to produce intelligent adults, but to “prepare the young person for life.” This is to be done by parents teaching a wide range of “practical and pragmatic subjects.”  I suggest wise parents may pause here and consider the suggestion that it would be a good project for them to read Proverbs and make a list of these practical and pragmatic subjects it teaches parents to teach their children. Many things may be added to Block’s list found below.  With the list in hand, parents could then begin to plan ways to teach, emphasize, and reinforce lessons on those subjects. When children are old enough to understand it would also be good to sit down with them and begin reading Proverbs together to highlight and extract these important issues. Done properly, parents could read this book together with their children several times during their formative years. This would not only give parents multiple opportunities to teach, but would also acquaint the children with this great book and its value in their lives and for their use as parents in the future.
From the preamble and the book as a whole, it is evident that the goal of learning is not merely to produce an informed and intelligent adult but to prepare the young person for life. The dimensions of this learning are encompassed by the single word hokma, which at base means skill in a craft (Ex 35:30-35) but by extension refers to intellectual acumen (1 Kings 4:9-14 [Eng. 29-34]), shrewdness (Ex 1:10), literary appreciation (Prov 1:6), ethical and moral integrity (Prov 1:3), and an understanding of the mysteries of life (Prov 30:11-33). Accordingly, the book of Proverbs covers a wide range of practical and pragmatic subjects, including personal etiquette, discipline and self-control in the face of inevitable sexual temptation, the importance of hard work, the importance of right speech, and other social skills, needed not only to get along with the rest of the household (Prov 6:16-19) but also to accept the responsibilities of adulthood in the broader community. To achieve these goals, stubborn wills needed to be broken, gullible minds needed to be given a framework for evaluating ideas, hard hearts needed to be softened, and self-centeredness needed to be replaced by a sense of membership in and obligation to the community. But underneath it all is a profound theological conviction that “The fear of Yahweh is the first principle of wisdom.” [Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Eccles 12:13]. If a young person does not learn this, he or she remains a fool, and a society of fools cannot stand, let alone prosper. Accordingly, the task of training children and preparing them for mature adulthood fell not only to the child’s parents but was deemed to be the responsibility of the community as a whole.(4)
Parents will need to study Proverbs carefully and be sure they understand how its teachings coincide with those of the Gospel as Latter-day Saints understand it. Doing that, I believe they will find many things that will help guide them in teaching and preparing their children for life.

I conclude by repeating Block’s very important observation, “If a young person does not learn this, he or she remains a fool, and a society of fools cannot stand, let alone prosper.” That is the Biblical view. In fulfilling their responsibilities correctly, parents are also fulfilling an important duty to society. A nation of fools cannot stand or prosper. With the current condition of so many of our children being raised in single-parent households and that single parent is often a poor, uneducated or poorly educated woman, and the seminal father is nowhere to be found. He is very likely in bed with someone else carelessly perpetuating the spiraling cycle. The result? America and many other nations around the world are rapidly becoming nations of fools.

Let’s think together again, soon.


*Some years ago I promised returned missionaries from the CRM, that I would occasionally write some editions of our mission publication “Continuing to Reap Success.”  Here is a new installment. 

1,  Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” in Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, edited by Ken M. Campbell.  (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 33-102.

2.  Ibid., 89-90, emphasis in original.

3.  Ibid., 90-91, emphasis in original.

4.  Ibid., 91-92.

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